Lifeforce Chapter 40
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.
William Ernest Henley
The Braided Lombax
Fergus walked. The ache in his body was all the more apparent. He was aware of the crack in his leg bone and his ribs, the bruises paining his arms. Yet as he walked, he felt...clear. He did not feel torment or anger, or coldness. He felt oddly light. He knew his way ahead, and for some reason the pain in both his heart and body seemed to ease.
Fergus looked around himself, at the remains of the city. He did not recognize some home he missed. To him, 'home' was a silly sentiment. He didn't feel different depending on the place he was in. Still...he had been used to Fastoon. The emptiness threatened to spill on him, to make him shudder – but it didn't. He would have smirked had he felt anything. Even this incident hadn't made him feel patriotic.
Fergus continued walking; his pace slow and steady. The quietness weighed down on him. He had an odd feeling; that feeling you get when you're the last person left in the room after a party or something. The irking feeling to leave as well.
The braided lombax's fingers where curled into fists, not tight or gripping. Just walking, feeling clearer than he had every remembered. Yet at the same time, he felt...tired. He felt heavy.
It was the closest thing to being happy that he'd ever felt, in a way.
That's not true. You where happy with them.
But 'them' no longer existed. There was just him, like there had been all those years ago. Scratch-less and surviving when so many others died. But not this time.
He passed a corner, and spotted a flattened rock, or brick, or whatever it was it lay nearby. Nearby Fergus spotted a bottle, remarkably still intact. He realized how badly he was limping and slid down to sit on the rock, soundlessly. He didn't care about the pain.
He reached down and plucked the bottle from the ground, and by instinct raised it to his lips. He'd been so thirsty for hours...but suddenly his throat felt sickly. Fergus opened his eyes and glanced at the tipped bottle.
Then, he stood up, eyeing the green glass. With a swift flick of the wrist, he smashed it against the stone, and lifted the sharp remains.
Fergus walked on, gripping the sharp glass until it dug threateningly into his fingers. He heard the crackle of fire, and sure enough, on passing around the corner, he found the remains of a building lying at his feet, burning heartily like a camp fire.
Fergus stared at the flames, feeling the heat on his skin. His fur brushed back a little, and his eyes stung a bit from it. But he didn't back away.
His braid prodded the side of his jaw, gently. Fergus slowly reached up and took hold of it. Years, he'd carried this thing. Always hanging by him. He didn't know why, but he made up his mind and lifted the shattered glass in his other hand.
Fergus sliced the braid from his head. It dangled between his fingers, still intact, pale and flopping. Fergus stared at it; the side of his head felt oddly bare. But not in a way that he'd miss.
Slowly, he tossed the braid into the flames, and watched it shrivel and darken into ash.
His head whipped around. He could hear an oh-so familiar voice carrying on the air; grating, high-pitched and furious. Fergus began walking towards it.
They had been scared of him, all those running. He understood why. How couldn't you be repulsed by such a terrible person? But Fergus wasn't afraid. Not even unnerved. Perhaps he was losing the place, but he just did not care. Everything was muted.
The next corner; the rubble made a mockery of a path before him. The voice was clear now, sharp and grating. Fergus's forehead wrinkled as his ears strained at hearing it. He was berating his troopers, sounding very much like a spoiled child.
Fergus drew closer to the corner. He could see the elbow of one of the fish-creature's suits. He passed around it. They were standing, facing towards the left. A giant walking throne surrounded by five or six soldiers, and the grub at the helm leering down at them. They stood near the deep canyons – it seemed any bridges that had been here where demolished.
At last, Fergus stopped. He waited, almost feeling a weird amusement as he waited to be seen.
The side of Tachyon's face that he could see looked misshapen and strained at the skin. Never had Fergus seen him look so ugly, and it wasn't just the flesh. Fergus leaned back, his head tilting. He kept his posture slack.
Tachyon caught sight of him out of the corner of his eye at last, and his head jerked his way. For a second he stared at him, eyes bulging...then they narrowed.
The fish gurgled in alarm, and cocked the weapons – but did not fire. Fergus didn't flinch. He couldn't spot the smirk curling on his face, faintly.
"Welcome home, you little bastard."
Tachyon's hands curled into fists. Then he pushed a hideous grin onto his face; or what was meant to be one – it looked more like a snarl. "Home? You mean this ball of rubble floating in space that your race once called so?"
Fergus chuckled. He couldn't help it. The smugness disappeared from the cragmite's face, and Fergus felt the fire in his chest rise at seeing it. "Well I have to say, you almost had me fooled."
"What?!" Tachyon snapped irritably, glowering. Fergus paced to the left a little, absently swinging an arm.
"Oh, you know. For years you put up your act, believing it yourself at times, I could see it. People looked down on me for being so harsh, so mean." He tilted his head left and right, imitating a pathetic high-pitched version of past scolding. "Meanie Fergus being insensitive to poor smart little Percival."
Tachyon snarled, his body shaking with fury – but he said nothing. Fergus pushed on, his voice raising. "No-one, absolutely no one saw what you really where. But I did."
He faced him, halting his walk. Tachyon scoffed darkly, forcing a snicker. "You think you know what I am?"
"I always have." Fergus said plainly. He lifted his narrowed eyes towards him, chin up. "I know you're a monster. You're empty, vile, and soul-less, and you always have been. So wrapped up in self-pity that you saw nothing and no-one else. And the funny thing? You where furious because people looked at you like you where a monster. This...revenge is part of that. For your 'people' and for your treatment." Fergus lowered his head, and smirked right at the cragmite's face. "And in doing so you've made yourself everything I thought and said you where."
"Thank you for proving me right all along."
The throne stomped forward towards him. Fergus, not taking his eyes off it, plucked the wrench off his back. Tachyon snarled,
"You are ignorant as you always have been! You claimed to have seen right through me, yet here we are – your species decimated, your city destroyed – and your life about to be torn out of you."
"Hmph." True enough. It was him against them, his opinion meant nothing. "Whether I tried to stop you or not wouldn't have mattered. The higher-ups where too afraid of treading on ickle Percy's sensitive feewings to listen to any kind of warning."
"They were all fools just as you where!" The hand on the throne crashed down – but Fergus had leaped away from it. The ground beneath the fist crumbled like ash. Tachyon growled in annoyance and lashed out again, but Fergus kept moving – making sure to keep away from the canyon's cliff-like opening. The throne's walk wasn't exactly speedy. He came at him again, talking still.
"Your race deserved what it got. The most 'smart' engineering lombaxes, toppled within the space of a few days!" He broke off in a shuddering cackle, shaking his head, "It was so simple, so deliciously easy! Your mindless pity and self-righteous ways brought your downfall!"
"MY pity?" Fergus called back, his blood boiling. He knew there was no reasoning here, but he couldn't help himself, "You speak as if every view of every lombax is the same! It's childish, its – stupid! "
"Stupid is having the GALL to pity me, when my people were banished from this universe! The horrors your race committed could not be sugar-coated by false goodwill!" Tachyon snapped. Fergus stared at him. His face was maddened, blazing. He lowered his arm just a little, his anger ebbing into disbelief.
"...You actually think you're in the right. You – you're actually trying to justify this?"
Ickabar is dead. You killed him. Didn't you know that?
Fergus eyed the loathsome creature that was approaching him. His goons stood around them, making no move to help. Fergus was their bosses kill apparently.
"I do not need to justify anything to a treacherous rodent like you."
Just tell him. Tell him Ickabar is dead.
But what would that do? Draw attention to Ickabar? Tachyon was as ignorant as he claimed the lombaxes where. For all he knew, Tachyon didn't even know that Ickabar had children. Nor that he'd murdered the one named directly from him...
His stomach churned. Fergus bent his legs and flexed his fingers, gripping the wrench, forcing pressure there and away from his leg. He was here to stall.
"Treacherous? You hypocritical maggot." Fergus scoffed, slowly moving to the side. He and the throne almost circled each other; Tachyon glowering at him with vicious disdain. He was fuelling the fire, and any moment the bug would snap.
"You think you're so clever with your little egging scheme. But you have no idea what'll result in!" The arm of the throne lashed out. Fergus wasn't quick enough this time, and it smacked against his chest, sending him flying backward. The lombax felt the air in his lungs being knocked clean out, and his ruined ribs scream in anguish.
He landed roughly on the dusty floor, giving a hacking cough. Tachyon cackled yards away.
Fergus sat up and rolled to the left to avoid the arm again, barely managing to get to his feet before he had to jump away again. The throne's arm had reached right out, and Fergus saw his chance. He leaped onto it; his free hand gripping the metal and his good leg kicking him up. Tachyon's eyes bulged in anger and he whipped the arm upwards; Fergus held on still, lifting his wrench. He swung it at the cragmite, who slid back, missing it by a hair.
The arm jerked like a whip. Fergus's grip loosened and he fell, and he stuck out his good leg to aid in his landing. He did so in a crouch, snarling. "You're quicker than you look on that thing."
"You have not seen anything yet, mangy cat." Tachyon sneered in response. He slammed his hand down on a button Fergus could not see. A burst of light flew from the palm of the throne's hand, right towards him. Fergus ducked, narrowly missing a –
Lasers. How flashy.
He gritted his teeth, continuing to dodge. They went like this for silent minutes, dodging and hitting out. He aimed for the arms, trying to break them off, but to no avail. He could feel his bad leg seizing up. It must be swelling, the broken thigh. He wouldn't be able to move fast much longer.
The finality came to him, slowly, and he moved away from the lasers almost absently. Fergus hadn't dealt any damage to the throne – but he'd take care of that now. He sprinted forward straight towards it, grunting. Tachyon's eyes widened as the lombax leaped up at him – he lashed at him with two arms of his throne. Fergus expected this. He grabbed onto one of them, kicking out his leg at the other to stop them from grabbing him.
Then, in a mad idea, he spun around and aimed a kick right at the cragmite, pushing off the throne's two arms. Tachyon gave a squawk, and Fergus grinned mirthlessly.
Then he felt the hand of the throne grip his neck. Tachyon had recovered, breathing hard from the kick in the chest – but he was panting like a rapid animal. Fergus snarled back at him, mentally preparing himself for what was to come.
The arm of the throne slammed him down head first onto the ground. Fergus's whole body jolted – but his neck hadn't broken. There was a metallic taste in his mouth and his head ached. He was dazed for a second before being tossed again, and he fell haplessly through the air onto his side.
He heard the throne stamping towards him. Tachyon was no longer laughing. Slowly, he tried to push himself up – but the throne's arms gripped his legs and lifted him again. He was swung like a bat against a still-standing wall. Fergus hit it with a crunch. He screwed his eyes shut, feeling his mouth fill with his own blood.
He was thrown again, and landed on his back. He coughed, feeling the lukewarm blood from his mouth splatter on his chin.
"You have no idea how I've waited for this day, lombax." Tachyon leered, slamming the foot on the throne down on his legs. Fergus grunted, forcing his teeth to bars and his mouth shut as the pressure increased. He heard the unmistakable snap of his other leg, the pain maddening. He forced himself not to yell.
"Y-you g-gonna keep y-yapping?" He hissed through bloodied teeth, his voice a gurgle in his throat. The cragmite sneered and he slammed the foot of the throne down on his chest. Fergus nearly retched at it stomped down on his broken ribs.
His mind wavered.
Sitting by his sister's bedsides, staring at their still forms, their eyelids shut as if asleep. So still...
The arm sized him by his bloodied chest then, and lifted him. Fergus spat the blood left in his mouth, glowering. His whole body was boiling, his face hot. Yet, his mind felt foggy.
Tachyon cackled, though it wasn't as hysterical as before. He wore a sickly smug look on his maw. "You always talked too much for your own good." His smirk was discarded and another arm came at him; crashing against his jaw. Fergus's head reeled, dizzy.
Standing beside his mother's bed; in the sun-lit hospital room, watching as the life support faded away from her.
The throne slowly stomped to the cliff-like edge of the canyon. "Your people will not survive. I will find the rest of them that fled from my army like rats and exterminate them – but you will not be around to see it."
Fergus lifted his head, slowly, feeling his own hear beating heavier than ever. It pulsed in his head as he felt his own blood seeping through his clothes, staining his face. The arm reached at him again and sized his arm, giving it a sudden twist – Fergus almost yowled as his forearm snapped, and lay limp by his side. His breathing became heavy. He could barely get it out of his chest.
"I almost wish you could see the end." Tachyon sneered, lifting him out towards the canyon's jagged, rocky edge. Fergus's eyes narrowed, and despite himself...he felt a low chuckle escape his broken chest.
"I'll...h-have the last laugh in the end. I'll be waiting for you...in hell..."
Tachyon's eyes narrowed, "We shall see." He hissed. He threw Fergus away from him. The lombax's back hit against the higher wall of the canyon, knocking the last jar from his boy – and then, he fell forward into the darkness, silently.
Fergus felt the wind brush against his cheek, and his eyes slide shut.
He limped through the canyon on a leg that barely functioned. His head bent. As exhausted as he was, it didn't stop his aimless walk. He didn't know where he was going or why. In reality, he wished he'd perished back there. Quick and painless, and end to it all.
The canyon was dim and the destroyed city could not be seen. That was the only blessing Raymas could hope for, though he knew it was beyond what he deserved. Feeling decades older than he was, he continued around the corner. The heaviness in him ached like a wound.
His fault, all his...
He closed his eyes. Then, he forced them to open again. He looked ahead, at the sandy canyon floor...and his heart almost stopped. Someone was lying meters away from him, his body lain on a soft slope.
Raymas fell horror and sadness wash over him, and he walked unevenly towards the still form, his eyes broad. He felt empty with sorrow.
"...Fergus..." He murmured.
Bloodied and broken, his limbs mangled, but his body lain almost peacefully. His face bore no agony; his eyelids slid shut as if asleep.
Slowly, slowly, they opened by a crack. Pale grey-blue irises stared up at him. Raymas slowly fell to his knees. But he couldn't bring himself to touch Fergus's broken frames.
"I knew you couldn't have gone out that quickly." Fergus muttered plainly, eyeing him with the faint frown his face was still able to manage. Raymas swallowed, helpless.
"...I'm...I'm so sorry..."
"...Forget it. This wasn't your fault." Fergus said quietly, turning his head away, stiff. He sighed, his chest lifting slowly. "This was his fault. Only his. Not yours, mind, or Icky's. His."
Raymas hung his head. The words didn't quench the ache within him. He doubted it did the same for Fergus, truth or not.
"...I could have done it differently."
"So could I. B-but this is what is." Fergus looked at him again, tiredly. Then, he coughed, his edges screwing shut. Raymas reached out, but again, he couldn't make himself touch him. He was afraid of causing more pain to his broken frame.
Raymas withdrew his hands and closed his eyes again. Fergus's coughing subsided. "F...find Tenahee. Look after my goddaughter. She's out there...somewhere." He looked at him again. Raymas lifted his head just a little.
"...It should be you, Fergus..." He whispered.
Fergus closed his eyes, and gave a faint, weak chuckle. "Think I'll pass. I wouldn't be up for it, you know...? No...I've waited for this...a long time. It caught up with me eventually..."
Raymas could see Fergus growing quieter, and felt his eyes sting. He reached out, his hand lying on his head, touching him at last. His fur and skin where cold. The ghost of a smile still on his face, Fergus opened his eyes just a little to look at him one last time.
"...Thank you, Fergus. For Icky. For them. You where always his brother."
Fergus stared back, and if he could have nodded, he would have.
"...I wish...I could have seen him one last time." Fergus murmured, his voice husky. "I know it...can never be..."
Raymas felt something trickle down his forehead. Looking up, he saw...ash, soft and grey, was falling from the polluted sky. Falling as gently and silently as snow. It landed upon Fergus's pale, bloodied face.
Fergus lifted his head just a little.
...Are you crying, Ick?
Raymas looked back down at Fergus again, his heart heavy. "...You...you will see them again, Fergus. All of them."
Fergus closed his eyes, a faint smile still upon his lips.
His hand brushed against soft, golden grass as it rippled in the wind. He waded through it, the glow of the sun on his back; the heat on his fur.
Fergus's chest went still, the ash falling around where Raymas knelt.
Far across the shimmering fields, he could see four figures on the path. Further behind them stood the hill, against the baby blue sky.
Standing on the path, a man and woman lifted their hands to their eyes to shield them from the sun, to see him.
Two little girls ran from beside them, towards him. They called his name, their voices carried over the wind, their laughter echoing over to him as he drew near.
At long last, he was home.
Leo had walked back to the outside air from the station. He could have just left, that second, but he had to go back. He had to look at the city one last time. Duck was lying in the ship, barely awake. Slowly, he raised his hands to his head.
Part of him had hoped Fergus would catch up. He'd waited. But... He was gone. Fergus was gone. Ickabar, Jan, Percy...
A lump rose to his throat, and the despair almost floored him. He had no excuse to stay anymore, no one to wait for. He looked at the rubble, the bodies...what used to be his home and theirs. Giving a shuddering sigh, Leo lowered his hands away.
He turned away from the sight. He began walking, trying to focus his mind on Duck, getting him out of here, getting him help...
Leo froze. He'd heard something move amongst the wreckages. Slowly, stiffly, he looked over his shoulder. He held his breath. Tachyon's minions? Here already? Had his minute delay, hesitance to leave, allowed them to catch up?
He began backing away, as quietly as he could. The rustling continued, getting closer. Leo bent down and lifted up a broken rod, watching the piles of debris around him. He couldn't see it.
It went quiet. Leo waited, his heart pounding. He breathed out. It was probably just...falling rubble. He turned away and continued walking, his legs wobbling from nerves.
A soft, quiet voice reached him. Leo stiffened. His whole body seemed to stop functioning. He stared ahead. It couldn't be. He must have gone mad.
Slowly, he turned around. A tiny figure had toddled out from around a pile of wreckage, filthy, towards him. His head covered in dried blood, his right ear missing, and the remains of it torn. A little hand on his mouth, chewing his purple fingers.
Leo's sorrow fell, and warmth and coldness washed through his body all at once as utter relief floored him inside. He couldn't believe it, but it was.
Percy toddled towards him, whimpering, and Leo darted to him, stumbling. He scooped him up, holding him tight against his chest. Warm and soft, and alive...he was actually here. Percy lifted a hand, petting Leo's cheek, obviously and groggy despite the loss of his ear.
Leo gave a soft sob, mixed in with a laugh.
He's alive, Fergus. Ick...he's alive...
He began walking back up to the station, onto the platform. It overlooked the ruined city, the road they had travelled on far below. Leo held Percy tight the entire way, feeling the strength return to his legs.
Percy looked out over the city, at the rubble, the fire. Unrecognisable to him. A rumble below made Leo stop, and they both looked down.
Far below...he saw Tachyon and his throne. Too far from the creature to see him. Leo's happiness was drowned out by a sick feeling inside him. For he knew now for certain...Fergus was not coming back.
He closed his eyes and turned away towards the ship where Duck. Tachyon was too far down to catch up...and he'd gotten the one he'd wanted for now. It was over.
Before they went into the ship that would take off and vanish into space, leaving behind a desolate, empty world. , Percy stared at the insect-like being far below, his groggy mind sorting through images he'd seen in his home. Old ones his father had owned. Slowly, his arms reached out to the familiar creature that could not see him, as Leo turned away.
You left it burning for me
Mother, I'm here...